18 Dec 2009
Dr. David Jess, a solar physicist at Queen's University Belfast, has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society's Keith Runcorn Prize. This prestigious prize, formally the RAS-Blackwell Prize, is awarded annually for the best doctoral thesis in Exploration Geophysics, Physics of the Earth's Atmosphere, Ionosphere or Magnetosphere, Planetary Physics, Solar Physics or Solid-Earth Geophysics. It is over a decade since this prize was last awarded in the area of Solar Physics, and was presented to Dr. Jess by the RAS committee, at their headquarters in London's Picadilly on 11th December 2009.
Jess' doctoral research was undertaken within the Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast, under the supervision of Prof. Mihalis Mathioudakis and Prof. Francis Keenan. He was heavily involved in the search for, and interpretation of, dynamic oscillations occurring in the Sun's turbulent atmosphere.
Following influential work in the early stages of Jess' PhD, he was invited to collaborate with NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center on a science-driven project involving a new breed of rocket and detector technologies. This collaboration with NASA culminated in 2008 with Jess winning NASA's "Robert H. Goddard Exceptional Achievement Award for Science".
Jess successfully completed his PhD within three years, aided by his publication of 11 refereed papers, 6 as first author. One of these is a heavily cited publication in Science (Jess et al., 2009, Science, 323), which shows, for the first time, unambiguous evidence for the existence of Alfven waves in the solar atmosphere. Jess commented, "Alfven waves have been predicted to manifest in the Sun's atmosphere since the 1940s, yet have remained elusive to the physics community for over half a century. This year, however, myself and members of Queen's University Belfast and the University of Sheffield have been able to find this piece of the puzzle. Crucially, these detected waves possess enough energy to heat the Sun's outer atmosphere to its multi-million degree temperature."
Jess has since obtained a Science and Technology Facilities Council Post-Doctoral Fellowship, and has chosen to continue his research career at Queen's University Belfast. He said: "I am incredibly happy to be able to continue working alongside Prof. Mathioudakis and Prof. Keenan. The Astrophysics Research Centre at Queen's University Belfast has an international reputation and I am proud to be associated with such an excellent research group."